Jaap van Marle

Massive borrowing

As is well-known, heritage  languages may differ considerably as to the number of English origin words they have. On the one hand, one finds languages such as Canadian French in which English-origin words are simply marginal. In this language the number of English-origin words is under 1% of the total verbal output, cf. Poplack at al. 1988. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that there are also heritage languages which exhibit much higher percentages of English-origin words. An example of the latter is Finnish as it is spoken in the Upper Midwest. According to Hirvonen (2005: 228), in the variety of Finnish spoken by the youngest generation of Finnish Americans the percentage of English word tokens is 17.59%. At least as early as Haugen (1953), the (non-)occurrence of loan words in American heritage languages has aroused the interest of linguists, whereas observations as to the – sometimes large-scale – occurrence of loan words go back to at least the 80ies of the 19th century.

A specific class of heritage languages is constituted by those languages whose original lexical stock seems to be replaced by English more or less completely. Put differently, these languages exhibit massive borrowing. An example of such a language is so-called Yankee Dutch, a variety of Dutch that was spoken in some of the big industrial towns in Michigan during the first decades of the 20th century (Harper 1993; Van Marle 2008, 2010). Crucial to Yankee Dutch is, that both its sounds and its grammar were ‘purely Dutch’, whereas its lexicon was predominantly English. That is, it was only the lexical stock of Yankee Dutch which had largely become English, in all other respects it had remained Dutch.

In this paper I will concentrate on heritage languages which display massive borrowing. I will present data which illustrate the lexicon of this type of heritage languages. In addition, I will discuss their general characteristics, the circumstances under which they develop, and I will deal also with the issue whether excessive borrowing is restricted to heritage languages or whether this can be found in other contact situations as well.